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Kempston Rural School

Kempston Rural Lower School July 2007
Kempston Rural Lower School July 2007

In 1844 a piece of ground “heretofore part of a cottage garden of Henry Clutterbuck at Church End … lately purchased by Rev. John Foster from Joseph Margetts Pierson” was conveyed by Henry Clutterbuck himself, who was the vicar, to the minister and churchwardens for the time being of Kempston [STuncat591/1]. This is the site on which the National School was built.

In 1846/7 the Church of England made an enquiry as to all its church schools. This was against the background of a new Whig government which championed secular education and the increasing importance of nonconformists, particularly Wesleyan Methodist, and Roman Catholics in providing schools. The new National School had just been opened, in 1844 and the return for Kempston noted a Sunday School for 168 boys and 97 girls, a Dame's daily School for 9 boys and 9 girls and the daily school for 73 boys and 61 girls. Additionally, the comment was made: "An Infant schoolroom is wanted, as the present school, though near the church, is nearly two miles from the great mass of the population".

The Bedfordshire Directory of 1853 notes of the new school that it had cost £545 and been built with grants of £130 by the Privy Council, £105 from the National Society, £40 from the Bedfordshire Diocesan Board of Education and £270 being raised by private subscriptions: "It is an excellent building and capable of holding 200 children. There are schools for boys, girls and infants. The site was given by the Rev.Henry Clutterbuck".

In his Bedfordshire Historical record Society volume of 1988 The Bedfordshire Schoolchild David Bushby notes that Rev. W. P. Warburton inspected the boys' class at Church End National School finding 44 present and: "Religious knowledge fairly satisfactory. Organization, four classes, under master and monitors. Discipline very fair. Internal arrangements fair. Books &c. plentiful supply. Methods, the boys repeat their lessons in a drawling monotonous manner, but the character of the instruction is by no means unsatisfactory". He also wanted to visit the girls' class, but: "The girls' school is called a "sewing, reading and writing school". The children meeting only in the afternoon on Tuesday and Thursday, and attending the whole of Saturday, I had no opportunity of forming an opinion as to the manner in which the school was conducted, as my visit took place in the forenoon". He also observed 40 infants, noting: "The infant school is nicely conducted".

The first Education Act was passed in 1870 (more correctly it was known as the Elementary Education Act). It was a milestone in the provision of education in Britain demonstrating central government's unequivocal support for education of all classes across the country. It also sought to secularise education by allowing the creation of School Boards. These were groups of representatives, elected by the local ratepayers and the Board had the powers to raise funds to form a local rate to support local education, build and run schools, pay the fees of the poorest children, make local school attendance compulsory between the ages of 5 and 13 and could even support local church schools, though in practice they replaced them, turning them into Board run schools (known as Board Schools). Naturally, and luckily for local historians, the Act required a questionnaire of local schools in 1870. The Kempston return included two schools in the urban part of Kempston as well as Church End National School, which was described as an Infant School accommodating 185 children, this implies that infants from both urban and rural parts of Kempston attended school here whilst the older children went to the newer schools at Up End and in Bedford Road, unless the description as an Infant School was a slip of the pen.

In 1870 the archdeaconry Board of Education gave £5 to the school which was only to be repaid if the school became a Board School [STuncat591/1]. 10th May 1872 a grant was received to enlarge the school [STuncat591/1]. A School Board was formed in Kempston in 1876 leading the National School to re-styled a Board School. However, religious instruction was not forgotten, the School Board rules stating: "Hymns and prayers are used, and the Bible is read, with comment thereon". Presumably the school now reverted to teaching both infants and juniors, if the description of it being a school for infants only in 1870 is correct.

In 1889 a new head-teacher observed: “I find that the teachers have never been shown different methods of teaching and therefore are totally at a loss to teach in anything but one way, whether that way succeeds or fails”. [SDKempstonRural1/1]. Church End Board School was renamed Kempston Rural Board School in 1895 when the urban and rural parts of the ancient parish of Kempston were split into two different civil parishes.

A land mark Education Act was passed in 1902, coming into effect in 1903. It disbanded the School Boards and gave day to day running of education to newly formed Local Education Authorities, usually the county council, as in Bedfordshire. The old Board Schools thus became Council Schools whilst the old National, British and other non-Board schools became known as Public Elementary Schools. Kempston Rural duly became Kempston Rural Council School.

Bedfordshire & Luton Archives & Records Service has a scrapbook of cuttings of visits made to most Bedfordshire Schools by School Inspectors for a period from just before the First World War through the inter-war years [E/IN1/1]. The first inspection in the scrapbook was in 1910, when "The work of this school has deteriorated since the last report was made and now, as a whole, reaches but a fair level of efficiency. There is a marked level of interest on the part of the children, the teaching does not sufficiently rouse them to effort and the discipline is lax. In the Infant Class the teaching is not sufficiently definite in aim, and the attainments of the children should be much higher. The teaching of this class needs assistance with the youngest children". In the margin is noted: "The Managers should be requested to report specifically to the Education Committee upon the contents of this report". The headmaster responsible for this state of affairs was Edwin Storr.

In the next year, when average attendance was 102, the inspector found improvements in the Junior department but felt that more had to be made: “In the Mixed School some improvement has been effected during the past year both in the order and attainments of the children, but more still remains to be done before the School will be in a really satisfactory state. A higher standard of Reading, Composition and Arithmetic should be aimed at in the First Class and the revision of back-work, which however, has not been totally neglected, should be more thorough. The Infants’ teacher has not been long in charge. She found the Class in a very unsatisfactory state and appears to have done her best to raise the level of efficiency; already there are signs of improvement. I trust during the ensuing year this improvement will be continued and the Class ultimately raised to a state of efficiency, a state which at present, it is far from reaching”.

There were no more inspections until 1921 because of the intervention of the Great War. By 1921 average attendance was down to 91 but: "A marked improvement in both attainment and tone has been made in all sections of this school since the present Head Teacher [Charles C. Crouch] was appointed. There is still room for development in certain directions, especially in Arithmetic, Recitation and Drawing. The improvement in Speech in the Infants’ division is very noticeable; and it is hoped that this will being about a higher level of Reading, Speech and recitation as the children go up the school”.

There is an undated report which took place between 1921 and 1924. It concentrates solely on the premises and is as follows: “This School is well equipped except in the following particulars: -

(1) There are no pictures. The Infants’ department and the main room would be increased in educational efficiency if some good pictures were provided.

(2) For upper classes. A wall map of the world is wanted. It is desirable that the maps in sections showing (a) the Colonies and (b) Europe might also be provided. I specify these maps because cupboard accommodation is limited, and wall space (if pictures are provided) is also fully occupied.

(3) Quennells’ “Everyday things in England” should prove a good Teachers’ book, if funds allows it purchase”.

“These comments on equipment should be borne in mind if immediate supply is not possible”.

In 1924 average attendance was 84. The inspector reported: “This school now has a thoroughly good tone, and much of the work is quite satisfactory. The Head Teacher’s interest in all that is for the good of the children is very manifest, and on the whole the improvement noted in the last Report has been very well maintained. Epidemic Sickness, involving unsatisfactory attendance, has been prevalent at various periods during the past twelve or fifteen months; but for this circumstance it is probable that progress would have been even greater than it is. The best subject is the Physical Training; this is very good indeed. The Arithmetic of Standards VI and VII is good, History is effectively taught, and Drawing and Singing are going steadily ahead. In the top class it is in the Arithmetic of Standard IV, the Composition of Standards V and VI and the Writing that further improvement is more especially to be sought. The condition of the other two classes – Standards I-III and the Infants’ Class – is a good deal more satisfactory than it used to be, but still further progress is to be desired”.

In 1934 average attendance was down to 45. This is because in 1928 the boys’ school at Up End and the girls’ school in Bedford Road both began to accept children of the opposite sex and because a senior mixed council school opened in Bedford Road taking away older children. The inspector reported: “This Junior School, whose numbers have fallen considerably, is very well conducted. The examinations, very full in the Summer Term, when every subject undergoes a written test, and full in the other terms when History and Geography are taken orally, are very judiciously marked, and show that the teaching has got home. The Arithmetic among the great majority is rather a strong subject, a good deal of work being got through and the corrections well looked after. Writing varies; there are a few children with not much control, but it is very free from smudges, and the best are capable of neat, clear writing. Composition is good among the best, and generally promising. Speech work is careful and the beginning of Dramatic work and Reading in the Infants’ Section leads on to quite good work in the Upper Room, where this side of the work is helped by a small, but growing, children’s library which is evidently well patronised. There is lots of room, now, for indoor games and exercises, and the children are happy and responsive. Both the Teachers are doing their work very well”.

The final report was an interim report, the result of visits two years apart, in March 1935 and March 1937: “At the earlier of these two visits the school was found to be somewhat unsatisfactory in the following particulars: -Suitability of Schemes: Needlework: and speech work of all kinds. Suggestions were made, and at the second visit some improvement was noted. The points put before the Head Teacher for further consideration were

1. A better arrangement for the midday meal, for which several children remain in school.

2. Pictorial records for History and Geography work.

3. Further improvement in the standard of Needlework.

It is hoped that the improvement already noted will be maintained, and enhanced”.

At the beginning of World War Two children were evacuated to Bedfordshire from a number of parts of East London as well as some of the channel towns such as Eastbourne [Sussex]. The Kempston Rural school admission register shows that most children were evacuated from Walthamstow [Essex] but there were also a handful from districts such as Hackney, Plumstead and Tottenham [Middlesex] [SDKempstonRural2/1].

There was some disagreement as to whether the local and evacuated children should be taught together. On August 1st 1940 the logbook noted: “Mrs Lock (School inspector) visited to take particulars with reference to Air Raid Precautions and the position of the evacuated school. She expressed her view against the proposal of amalgamation. H. E. Baines Director of Education called in with reference to the same matter. He is in favour of the amalgamation” [SDKempstonRural1/3]. There is no record of the decision in the logbook!

The third of the great Education Acts was that of 1944 which established the principle of County Primary Schools for children up to the age of 11, at which time they took an examination to determine the nature of the secondary school they would attend until they were 15, the most academically able going to grammar schools, the rest to secondary or secondary modern schools. Kempston Rural thus became a County Primary School.

In the 1970s Bedfordshire County Council introduced comprehensive education, doing away with the 11+ examination and grammar schools and introducing a tier of school between the old County Primary and County Secondary Schools. Thus Lower Schools now taught children aged 4 to 9, Middle Schools from 9 to 13 and Upper Schools from 13 onwards. Kempston Rural became a Lower School.